The appalling state of public infrastructure in the country has been exposed once again. A 14-year-old mentally challenged boy fell into a 12-feet-deep sewer in Ghaziabad, which was publicised by Newsweek as one of the 10 most dynamic cities in the world. However, the callousness with which the district and civic authorities reacted and handled the crisis shows that beneath the glitz and glamour of expensive condominiums and tony malls, very little works. The incident could have been avoided if the civic authorities were a little more tuned in to the needs of the people they are paid to serve; the manhole was left open for four months despite repeated reminders. The rescue operation was hampered because municipal officials had no clue about the design of the sewer system; there were no oxygen masks for the rescue team, and the police and district officials reacted far too late.
This incident is not the only example of our crumbling urban infrastructure, which takes the sheen off our much-touted economic ascent. Gurgaon, Ghaziabad and Noida are considered to be model satellite towns, but dig a little deeper and you will come face-to-face with the nightmare reality: the road network is in a mess, power is short in supply and the underground water-table is depleting at a frightening rate. The story of Prince, the boy who was rescued from a well after being trapped for 72 hours, the fire at an industrial fair in Meerut and the crisis Mumbai faces every monsoon prove how slapdash we are when it comes to basic issues like infrastructure.
The central and state governments will invariably deflect blame from themselves and pass the buck on to the people if possible. No one denies the power of civil society, but the first step of owning up responsibility during times of crisis has to come from the authorities themselves. Ghaziabad district magistrate, MKS Sundaram, clearly thinks otherwise. He told a TV channel: “Covering a manhole is a simple and normal issue. However, it seems it has become very difficult for the simple reason that it was not covered. We have to include people’s participation in the management of civic amenities.” The government must also hike its spend on infrastructure to keep pace with growth. Failing to do so will mean that sooner rather than later, our cities will implode under the weight of their infrastructural inadequacies.